The Subjectivity of Civil Militia in May 18 Gwangju Uprising

  • Jung Han Kim


The civil militia of the May 18 Gwangju Uprising changed its subjectivity dramatically in three different phases. In the first phase, the ultimate goal of the civil militia was to realize the dominant ideology of liberal democracy and anti-communism. As the militia was attempting to protect liberal democracy, they resisted the martial law. In the second phase, the formation of fraternal community as a resistance group is the most significant characteristic. The members shared friendship and camaraderie in their community, which went beyond social strata defined by social standing such as family relations, class positions, and occupational prestige. They acted together, supported each other, and shared a common fate, including the high possibility of death. All these experiences led the community to contain utopian idealism. The last phase is referred to the “last night” on May 27, 1980 when the civil militia tried to defend the provincial office building against the Special Forces dispatched by the government. Through this final and fatal struggle, they were reborn as new political subjects. Since the existing symbolic order in the dominant ideology could not locate them a proper place, the militia were assigned to a new symbolic identity within the fraternity community. The desperate struggle of the last day was an unimaginable choice within the existing matrix of dominant ideology. Yet it signaled the birth of an alternative political subject which affected and mediated the motive and modality of subsequent social movements in the 1980s.


May 18 Gwangju Uprising Civil militia Subjectivity Liberal democracy Martial law Fraternal community Friendship Camaraderie Special Forces Social movement 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jung Han Kim
    • 1
  1. 1.Sogang UniversitySeoulSouth Korea

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